Character Development Part 2: Do and Don’t

Image(Image of Edith Mae from TOTC)

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to write about character development. I took you through different ways to create the character and a couple of templates that people might choose to use. Now, I want to go a little more in depth about character creation, so I’ll guide you through some of the do’s and don’t’s that I’ve learned.

Make Your Character Unique: You want to focus on making your character unique and easy to recognize in the story. This could come through physical appearance or through actions/personality. The character needs to be memorable otherwise your readers are going to grow bored very, very fast. It’s perfectly fine to make a character who is generic if he’s a background character because he’s not as important as say your main character. But at the end of a book, you want your readers to be able to tell you what your character looks like, or distinguish him from the others because of the things he does.

There are plenty of ways you can make the character unique. Does he have a special power that no one else has? Does he have unique hair color or eye color? Is he a warrior for the king, a cop, a pilot? I find that even throwing little things into the description like making him allergic to something is really interesting. It just makes him more unique and fun to explain. You also want to be able to establish what kind of character he is, like a villain, protagonist, comic relief, and so on and so forth. He has to not only be unique in appearance/attitude but unique in the story. You don’t want a bunch of characters to seem the same because otherwise the readers are going to get really confused. Flesh out the character and find out what makes him special.

One of the best ways to practice this is to think about your own quirks, or the quirks of your family members. Do you do something that might seem unusual to other people? Do you have interesting habits? Do you have ideals that are not part of the norm? If you can pick yourself apart, you can learn then how to also pick apart characters and give them a more interesting background.

I found this blog interesting about how to make characters unique:

2. Make Your Character Relatable: While you do want to make your character unique, make sure that he’s relatable as well. If you have someone who can move mountains, avoid every attack, survive any mortal injury, your readers are going to get either bored or annoyed. They can’t relate to this character because he’s too God-like. Even characters like Thor have weaknesses, which may be as simple as vanity or cockiness. You don’t want to Godmode, meaning you don’t to make a character who can do anything without repercussions. Basically, you’re making him a God and unattainable.

One of the easiest ways to make the character relatable is to give him emotions that the readers might understand. Is he powerful but fears that power because he might hurt someone? Is he smart, but because of this he struggles with his emotions? You need to find a way to reach out to the readers so they can feel like they can understand this character, otherwise why should they cheer for the character? This is especially important for your main character because he’s the one who drives the book.

On the other hand, try not to make your character so insanely unique, that your readers get overwhelmed. For example, giving a character a name like Zexaforgiolious D’Numarion, second son of Dibblio D’Numarion, with an appearance of golden skin, purple, blue, orange, yellow hair with lavender highlights, two-toned red and blue eyes, with the ability to turn star essence into new planets and…etc. etc. etc….is just a bit too much. Detail and uniqueness are wonderful, but please try to limit yourself if you can. While this may work for animated shows where the audience can actually see the characters, it might just be too much for a book. All the detail gets lost, and if you ask someone what the main character is like, she might just blink at you and respond, “Hair….lots of colorful hair.”

3. Give Your Character a Purpose: One of the most important things to remember is to give your character purpose. What is the point of creating that character if you’re not going to use him or her for a particular reason? There are such things as throwaway characters, those who need to be there to help move the story along, but who may not be brought back in again. However, if that character is needed to move the plot, then that character is important. Don’t just make arbitrary extra characters so that your main one has additional friends. I try to think of J. K. Rowling and how each of her characters seems to represent a feeling in her book. That’s how I want my characters to be. I want them to symbolize strength, courage, compassion, sacrifice, and so on and so forth. That’s their purpose. So make sure you give your character something to do.

4. Make Your Character Likeable: You want to make at least some characters likable, and this goes along with the relatable topic. Few will want to read the book if they can’t connect or care about any of your characters. It’s perfectly fine to have characters your readers hate, but you really need to have someone that they can cheer for and actually worry about. There was one book I read where I just did not care about any of the characters. They felt fake to me and were so hollow that I only read the story to see if it would get any better. I refused to pick up the sequel. You don’t want that for your books. Give your characters depth. Make them likeable and encourage your readers to really care, because then you’ll gain a greater audience.

5. Don’t Make a Mary Sue/Marty Stu Character: This applies more to fanfiction, but you can run into this problem in your books as well. A Mary Sue/Marty Stu character is typically one that is just annoyingly perfect. This character can upstage all of the others with her/his amazing skills, or becomes the whiny damsel in distress character, or just seems to be the convenient character that can solve everyone’s problems. This rule kind of falls in line with making a character realistic. You don’t want your characters to be invincible or be the “best” at everything. Flaws make them more interesting and also more relatable. Mary Sues and Marty Stus can just get extremely annoying and make your story feel hollow.

Below are some links that will better explain a Mary Sue and also give suggestions on how to avoid making such a character. The biggest thing is that you don’t want to make your character the best of the best and you want to give her some flaws and depth.

6. Don’t Borrow Characters From Other Stories: We all have our favorite books and characters. The one trap authors may fall into when they’re writing is that they make their own character too much like a popular book character. For example, and this is just my opinion, Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle is far too much like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. If you don’t want spoilers, then please skip to the next paragraph. Both Eragon and Luke are supposedly parentless and live with an uncle (Eragon) or aunt/uncle pairing (Luke) until the bad guys come in and kill their remaining family members while hunting for the main character. Of course, this sets the main character on a quest to learn about his secret abilities (Dragonrider vs Jedi) so that he can avenge his family and also free the land of the horrendous tyranny of the main bad guy (King Galbatorix and Darth Vadar). They both have mentors who guide them and who are eventually killed (Brom and Obi-Wan/Yoda) which drives them to learn even more. They later find out secret brotherly/sisterly relationships (Murtagh and Leia) and then discover that their father was still alive (Brom/Vadar). Eventually they both lose their father figures after the father feels as if he’s redeemed himself. Obviously there are plenty of differences too, but you can see what I mean…these characters are extremely similar.

Once again, this falls under the rule of making your character unique. Try not to borrow from other stories if you can help it and come up with your own ideas when you design the character. Yes, you might find some similarities since few ideas are original these days, but so long as you try to really do something different and special with your own character, that’s good, and you’ll be able to avoid readers picking your character apart and comparing them to those from other books and movies.

7. Don’t Confuse Your Characters: This issue can happen if you’re writing multiple projects or just have way too many characters. I’m completely guilty of this as well. Don’t recreate characters by mistake. What I mean with this is that I wrote a series about a character and had her past and ambitions all designed. When I created a new series, I unintentionally recreated my main character, so much so that I will probably have to go back and redo a lot of the history in the other series. Likewise, I created two characters that are extremely similar (though they serve different purposes). I still need to go through and see if the second character really is needed, or if there are ways that I can separate them more.

Why is this important? You don’t want your readers calling you out for remaking your characters. Nor do you want your readers getting confused, thinking they’re reading about one character but they’re actually reading about another. If you repeat the characters, your story also might start feeling dull and predictable. Be creative. If you start noticing differences, slap your hand, regroup, and rewrite one of the character’s histories so that you can make him and the story unique.

That’s about all I have for now. As always, leave a note below if you have an idea you’d like me to write about.

The Writer’s Relationship With Characters

Image(Images of a few of my characters and a friend’s characters from a previous story, drawn by me)

In light of my blog entry from last week about how to create characters, I would like to discuss the relationship a writer has with her characters. It’s going to be different for everyone, but I’d like to touch on my personal experience while writing. Someone once said to me that he can’t understand how I can grow so attached to TV/movie characters, nor can he comprehend how much my own characters really mean to me. So, I’m going to let you explore my mind a little bit.

First off, I think most people who watch movies or read books end up building a connection with the characters. You have the ones you like and the ones you hate. The writer isn’t doing her job if she doesn’t make her readers care about the people she creates. So yes, when characters died during the Red Wedding in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, I cried, threw pillows, and plastered facebook with my rage. When some of my favorite characters in the Redwall books were killed, I cried and mourned for them. Heck, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock in one of his books, people were so devastated by the loss that Doyle had to bring Sherlock back.

The money probably didn’t hurt either.

What this amounts to is that people learn to care for characters as if they were friends or family. If a character I love betrays another, I get mad. If a character I adore dies, I cry and feel miserable for a while. It took me years to get over how K.A. Applegate finished her series Animorphs because of what she did to the characters, and I won’t even go into how the series itself ended. Readers care and feel, and that’s how an author becomes successful. If readers don’t feel invested in the characters, why would they continue reading the author’s books?

This leads to the questions, how does the author create the characters and make them so likeable? How does one build a relationship with fictional characters? As I said, everyone has a different experience, so I’m just going to focus on mine, and hopefully this will clear some of the questions up for people or at least help to better explain my mind.

My characters are like children to me. Some of them are the golden children that do everything I want them to do. They’re easy to write about, make me happy, and behave. Others, I would like nothing more than to lock in a closet and never have to write about because they never do what I want them to do. I try to write a scene with expectations of what the character will do, and instead of fighting a battle, my character might be off gambling on the sidelines. Some characters I have to nurture, coax them to come out of their shells and show me what they’re really like. Others I feel empathy towards, and I have to hold them and guide them through the story because they’re so lost or broken.

I’m sure this sounds strange to some people. They may think, “You’re the author. How can it be hard to make a character do what you want it to do? You’re the one writing about them, and they’re just fictional figures.”

Yes, it’s true, I’m in control of the pen and keyboard, and I’m the one who creates the character from scratch, but as I write, the character takes on her own persona. As I mentioned before, sometimes the character just writes herself. I can create her background, her appearance, and everything important about her, but what she does is up to her sometimes. I have to follow her guidance and just let my fingers run across the keys and see what she’s going to do. Sometimes the story is just as much of a surprise for the writer as it is for the readers.

On top of that, and more humorously, sometimes a character can become so stubborn that I actually get mad at her for messing with me. For example, I have a new character in my book that went through multiple name changes. I didn’t get frustrated with myself each time a new name arose (some more ridiculous than others), I got mad at her, blamed her for not being a good character and just sticking with one name.

Geeze…no wonder people think I sound loony.

There are days where I cannot write about certain characters. I will sit and argue with that character, struggle to get out his dialogue or even his actions. But if I switch to another character, suddenly the ideas flow and she talks to me and tells me what to do in the scene. No, it’s not like the devil and angel sitting on my shoulders. It’s just a feeling I get, a warmth deep inside of me that helps me connect with the book and my characters.

I grow attached to some and completely forget others amidst the story (sorry, Oswin). When bad things happen to characters, I feel sad, especially if I truly like the characters. Yes, I’m the one causing the bad situation, but that doesn’t mean I feel good about it. My favorite characters…I feel for them. I have empathy for them, and it’s important to have some sort of emotion towards the character so you can properly write about how they feel. You want to pull the readers into the book, to help them feel what you feel as you write about the character. I’m not going to lie, when a character has grown emotional or impassioned, I’ve cried or grown just as empowered. There have been times where a character has been so angry with another that I’ve actually felt my heart pound in my chest, my hands shake, and my face flush with similar rage.

On the flipside, when I have characters that I don’t like, I get angry with them. It’s so much harder to write about them because I want to try to make them likeable for my readers, even though I know all of the horrible things that they’re going to do. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes, until I can allow myself to feel the “darkness” that surrounds that evil character.

Writers lose themselves sometimes in the emotions of their characters to help to properly covey their feelings. It’s an interesting sensation, though I will say that this is making me sound like I cry a lot when I write, which I don’t. I build a bond with my characters. I worry about what will happen with them and how they’ll react to different situations. That’s why it’s always a good idea to just write scenes between several characters to get a feel for what they’ll be like when certain events occur.

When I first create someone, I feel so much joy and excitement. It’s always so much fun to just make someone new, figure out the character’s history, his friends, his enemies, and so on and so forth. As I write, I grow more familiar with him, and hopefully, I grow attached. Forming that bond helps me remember that character and understand how he works. If the character should happen to die, and I’ve formed a strong bond with him, it’s so hard to do. It’s like I’m killing off a friend that has been there with me for such a long journey.

In a book series I wrote (I won’t say what), I spent about three books with a single character. I loved this person very much, and I always enjoyed writing about her. But I knew from the very first chapter that she wasn’t going to survive until the end of the book. I tried not to grow attached, but I couldn’t help it. I felt her grow on me, and I worked with her, watched her grow and live out her life. But as the final pages arrived, and the death happened, I broke down during the entire scene and had to put the final book away for a few days because it was so hard to say goodbye to her. When I returned to the book, I didn’t have much of a sense of closure until my other characters properly mourned for her as well.

It’s strange and unusual for some people to hear writers talk about this, but honestly, I don’t understand the point of writing if I can’t find such interest and joy in my characters. Granted, there are a couple that I hate very much and can’t stand writing about, but the rest…they’re friends to me, and that makes me never feel quite so alone. They’re always there, just kind of roaming around my head, waiting to come down onto paper and enter the story. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without the ideas. Could I even still call myself a writer?

I think that’s enough reflection for now. As always, if you have any ideas for future blogs, leave a comment down below.